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Context of 'August 11-15, 2001: Flight School Staff Become Suspicious of Moussaoui, Fear He May Be Hijacker'

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Airman Flight School.Airman Flight School. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui flies to the US. Three days later, he starts flight training at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. (Other Islamic extremists had previously trained at the same flight school or other schools in the area (see September 1999)). He trains there until May, but does not do well and drops out before getting a pilot’s license. His visa expires on May 22, but he does not attempt to renew it or get another one. He stays in Norman, arranging to change flight schools, and frequently exercising in a gym. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to US investigators, would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh later says he meets Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan, in June 2001 (see June 2001). [Washington Post, 11/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Airman Flight School, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hugh Sims (left) and Tim Nelson (right).Hugh Sims (left) and Tim Nelson (right). [Source: Flysouth and Andy King / Associated Press]Flight engineer Tim Nelson and pilot Hugh Sims, who work at the Pan Am International Flight School where Zacarias Moussaoui trains to fly a Boeing 747-400, are immediately suspicious of Moussaoui, and their suspicions continue to grow after his arrival because:
bullet He sends unusual emails that are signed “zuluman tangotango” and laced with grammatical errors, even though he says he is a British businessman; [CNN, 3/2/2006] His e-mails also include abnormal comments such as, “E[mail] is not secure;” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
bullet He pays most of his $8,300 fee in hundred dollar bills. This makes Nelson suspicious, because he thinks cash is hard to track; [New York Times, 2/8/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; CNN, 3/2/2006]
bullet He is alone, whereas most trainees arrive in groups; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
bullet He says he wants to fly a 747 not because he plans to be a pilot, but as an “ego boosting thing.” However, within hours of his arrival, it is clear he is “not some affluent joyrider,” as he is shabbily dressed; [New York Times, 2/8/2002; New York Times, 10/18/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
bullet In addition, it is unusual that he has no aviation background, very little experience, and no pilot’s license. All other pilots at the center, even “vanity pilots”—wealthy individuals who just want the thrill of flying a large jet—have many times more flying hours than Moussaoui and are all licensed; [US Congress, 10/17/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; Rake, 5/2005]
bullet He has flown for 57 hours at flight school in Oklahoma, but not yet flown solo, which is unusual. The school’s manager of pilot training, Alan McHale, will later comment, “My worst student was a grandma, and I got her to solo after 21 hours;” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
bullet He is not just buying a one-period joyride, but a whole course; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
bullet He seems determined to pack a large amount of training in a short period for no apparent reason; [New York Times, 2/8/2002]
bullet He is “extremely” interested in the operation of the plane’s doors and control panel. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] He also is very keen to learn the protocol for communicating with the flight tower, despite claiming to have no plans to become an actual pilot; [New York Times, 2/8/2002]
bullet He talks to some Syrian airline pilots training at the facility, and the pilots tell Nelson that Moussaoui is fluent in Arabic. Nelson, who is already worried Moussaoui might be up to no good, thinks, “One more red flag;” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; CNN, 3/2/2006]
bullet The school’s accountant complains that Moussaoui’s payment is a couple of hundred dollars short, but that he does not have a credit card with him, even though he says he is an international businessman; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005] and
Nelson thinks back to an incident in Japan when the captain was stabbed to death and the killer then flew the plane for 45 minutes before the co-captain regained control. He is concerned Moussaoui might perform a suicide hijacking, “Here’s the problem: You’ve got an aircraft that weighs upwards of 900,000 pounds fully loaded and carries between 50,000 and 57,000 gallons of jet fuel. If you fly it at 350 knots [about 400 miles per hour] into a heavily populated area, you’re going to kill a boatload of people.” After talking to instructor Clancy Prevost, who is also suspicious of Moussaoui (see August 13-15, 2001), both Sims and Nelson independently decide to call the FBI and Moussaoui is arrested soon after the calls are made (see August 16, 2001). [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Tim Nelson, Zacarias Moussaoui, Alan McHale, Hugh Sims

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pan Am International Flight School.Pan Am International Flight School. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Although some staff at the Pan Am International Flight School became a little suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui before he arrived (see August 11-15, 2001), within two days of his arrival at the school, Moussaoui’s behaviour makes his assigned instructor Clancy Prevost highly suspicious. This is because:
bullet Moussaoui has only flown for under 60 hours, whereas the second least experienced student Prevost ever had had 10 times as many hours. This lack of experience means Moussaoui does not really understand the instruction; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
bullet When Moussaoui is asked what his goal is, he tells Prevost he wants to fly a 747 from London to New York, the same goal he gave in his original e-mail to the flight school. [Rake, 5/2005] This raises fears he has plans to hijack such a flight; [US Congress, 10/17/2002]
bullet When Prevost relates a story about a charter flight in the Middle East where getting the doors open was a problem, the story causes Prevost to ask Moussaoui whether he is a Muslim and Moussaoui replies in a strange tone, “I am nothing.” This makes Prevost worry so much that he ends the session, goes back to his motel, and calls the flight school to express his reservations about Moussaoui. He talks to his manager in the morning and says, “We’ll care [about having trained Moussaoui] when there’s a hijacking and he knows how to throw the switches and put them in the right position and all the lawsuits start coming in when they figure out we taught him how to do this”;
bullet Prevost then goes into a supervisors’ meeting and recommends calling the FBI, but becomes even more upset when he is told Moussaoui paid for his training in $100 bills.
As Moussaoui does not learn much during the day, Prevost invites him to observe a simulator session that evening, which Moussaoui does with interest. The following day Prevost meets the FBI, which has now been alerted by the school, and shares his feeling it would be a good idea to do a background check on Moussaoui. The FBI subsequently arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Some claims later made about Moussaoui in the media may be inaccurate:
bullet He is said to mostly practice flying in the air, not taking off or landing. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; New York Times, 2/8/2002; Slate, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 5/22/2002] However, he is arrested after ground instruction and never flies the simulator, so it is unclear how this could happen. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] 9/11 Congressional Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill will also later say that the reports saying he only wanted to pilot a plane in the air are untrue. [US Congress, 9/24/2002] In addition, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “Contrary to popular belief, Moussaoui did not say he was not interested in learning how to take off or land”; [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
bullet It will be reported that he appears not to understand French, despite being from France, and does not specify the Middle Eastern country he says he comes from. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; Washington Post, 1/2/2002] However, at the trial Prevost will recall that Moussaoui spoke good French and that Moussaoui told him he had both French and Moroccan passports. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Prevost will later receive a controversial $5 million reward from the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice program. [Newsweek, 1/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Clancy Prevost, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zacarias Moussaoui, Pan Am International Flight School

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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